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12:15 pm - Tue, Jan 14, 2014
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3:42 pm - Sun, Nov 17, 2013
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On Legalizing Weed, Virginia Should Just Say Yes

Hinkle: On legalizing weed, Virginia should just say yes

Last year voters in Colorado and Washington approved ballot measures legalizing recreational marijuana use. Last week Colorado approved another measure that imposes a 15 percent excise tax and a 10 percent retail tax on pot. Portland, Maine, also passed a measure legalizing weed. So did three more Michigan cities (bringing the total there to five).

Virginia should, too. Here are five reasons why.

(1) It’s none of the government’s business. Consider: “Marijuana prohibition is perhaps the oldest and most persistent nanny-state law we have in the U.S. We simply cannot afford a government that tries to save people from themselves. It is not the role of government to try to correct bad behavior, as long as those behaviors are not directly causing physical harm to others.” Those are not the words of some San Fran hippie holdover with love beads and a Seventies-vintage VW bus. They come from former Sen. Tom Tancredo of Colorado, a Republican with a lifetime rating from the American Conservative Union of 99 percent.

Tancredo’s point is one with which liberals ought to agree. Shortly before the election Tarina Keene, director of NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia, said Terry McAuliffe would owe his victory to women “who want to own their own bodies.” If you agree with the concept of self-ownership, then you should agree with Milton Friedman: “I don’t think the state has any more right to tell me what to put into my mouth than it has to tell me what can come out of my mouth.”

(2) Pot prohibition is unnecessary. Federal law classifies marijuana as a Schedule I drug, along with heroin and LSD. According to the Justice Department, Schedule I drugs are “the most dangerous drugs of all the drug schedules,” with “no currently accepted medical use” and “potentially severe psychological or physical dependence.” This is absurd. True, chronic pot use is bad for you. But people chronically — and legally — use many things that are bad for you. If the harm threshold necessitating prohibition is set by laws governing tobacco and alcohol, then marijuana, which is no worse than they are, should be treated like they are. If it is not necessary to forbid something, then it is necessary not to forbid it.

(3) Prohibition costs a gawd-awful lot. America spends $3.6 billion a year enforcing its pot laws — $245 million of that here in Virginia. Arrests for possession have risen from 260,000 in 1990 to 750,000 in 2010; a whopping 10 million Americans have been arrested for possession in the past 15 years. And a fat lot of good it has done: Nearly half of U.S. adults have tried pot at least once; the National Institute on Drug Abuse says more than 17 million Americans have used it within the past month.

(4) Prohibition disproportionately hurts minorities. Whites and blacks smoke weed in roughly equal proportions, but blacks are far more likely to be arrested for possession. According to a recent piece in The Nation, police in major cities arrest blacks for marijuana possession at seven times the rate for whites. Many of those busted are young: Nationwide, 62 percent are 24 or younger.

Why the big racial disparity? Not because cops are racist. Rather, police tend to patrol high-crime areas, which mean low-income areas populated by minorities. When officers stop someone in those areas, they search for contraband — and often find pot.

They might find it in rich white neighborhoods, too, but “police officers patrolling in middle- and upper-middle-class neighborhoods typically do not search the vehicles and pockets of white people, so most well-off whites enjoy a de facto legalization of marijuana possession.”

That racial disparity perpetuates others, including economic disparity. A criminal record makes getting a job harder, and spending time behind bars impedes wealth accumulation. Legalizing marijuana would change all these dynamics, starting at the source: Frequent, low-level drug busts can contribute to statistics that designate an area as “high-crime” and subject it to increased police scrutiny.

(5) The state is cutting off its own nose to spite its face. As Tancredo noted in his 2012 op/ed column in the Colorado Springs Gazette, prohibition does not stop marijuana use; it merely ensures “that all of the profits from the sale of marijuana … flow to the criminal underground.” Meanwhile, taxpayers foot exorbitant enforcement bills. By contrast, estimates of the revenue from Colorado’s newly approved taxes ranges from $40 million to more than $130 million a year. Those figures include only direct proceeds from excise and sales taxes. But other indirect proceeds could add up as more of the marijuana industry moves into the stream of legal commerce. Bootleggers don’t pay income tax, but beer distributors do.

Virginia has a lot to gain from bringing marijuana out of the shadows, but doing so will be a long slog; at the Virginia General Assembly, even money doesn’t always have the final word. Last year Del. David Englin introduced a bill merely to study the revenue potential from pot legalization. It was killed in subcommittee by anonymous vote.

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9:48 am - Wed, Oct 2, 2013
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In the War on Drugs, Drugs Keep Winning

Some helpful stats:

Drugs are now cheaper to buy and more potent despite increased drug seizures by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), The International Centre for Science in Drug Policy said in its report.

Between the years 1990 and 2009, the DEA increased cannabis seizures by 465% and heroin seizures by 29%. Despite the increased seizures, prices for cannabis decreased by 86% over the same period. Heroin prices decreased by 81%. The general decrease of price implies an over-supply of hard drugs available. Over the past two decades the purity/potency of heroine, cocaine, and cannabis has also increased.

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11:51 am - Mon, Aug 12, 2013
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CVS is going to start demanding ID for nail polish remover, because acetone can be used to make meth. Seriously.

You know what else can be used to make meth? Soda bottles. Why isn’t CVS demanding IDs for bottles of Sprite and capping the number of 2-liters you can buy, eh? WHY DOES CVS HATE THE CHILDREN?!

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2:59 pm - Tue, Aug 6, 2013
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The Return of Hemp

Once a hugely popular crop grown by some of America’s most august Founding Fathers, including George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, hemp was even touted by government propaganda “Hemp for Victory” films in WWII. (You can watch the flick here.)

Then came the War on Drugs, and industrial hemp — which is almost identical to marijuana — was declared verboten by the federal Bureau of Narcotics, even though hemp has so little THC (marijuana’s psychoactive ingredient) that if you smoked it, you would die from smoke inhalation before you got the slightest bit high.

Now hemp is beginning to see a bit of a renaissance, thanks to support from some unlikely sources — such as Kentucky Sen. Mitch McConnell , whose support means both the state’s senators would like to legalize industrial hemp.  In Colorado, regulators are writing rules to govern hemp farming. If such bastions of conservatism can see the virtue of such a useful plant, then surely the rest of the country cannot be far behind.

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12:39 pm - Fri, Jul 5, 2013
Is this novelty coffee mug a threat to public health? Twenty-two state attorneys general think so:


Following a letter from 22 state attorneys general, Urban Outfitters has agreed to stop selling a humorous mug with a “Prescription: Coffee” design. The AGs argued that prescription drug abuse is a very serious matter and not something to be joked about. [H/T Eugene Volokh]
The humor-impaired AGs participating (is yours on this list?) included those from Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Florida, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Mississippi, Montana, New Mexico, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Utah, and Wyoming, as well as Guam. According to Maggie Thurber at Ohio Watchdog, “the Partnership at Drugfree.org went further and categorized [the mugs and related coasters and other trinkets] as ‘prescription drug paraphernalia products.’”

Is this novelty coffee mug a threat to public health? Twenty-two state attorneys general think so:

Following a letter from 22 state attorneys general, Urban Outfitters has agreed to stop selling a humorous mug with a “Prescription: Coffee” design. The AGs argued that prescription drug abuse is a very serious matter and not something to be joked about. [H/T Eugene Volokh]

The humor-impaired AGs participating (is yours on this list?) included those from Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Florida, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Mississippi, Montana, New Mexico, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Utah, and Wyoming, as well as Guam. According to Maggie Thurber at Ohio Watchdog, “the Partnership at Drugfree.org went further and categorized [the mugs and related coasters and other trinkets] as ‘prescription drug paraphernalia products.’”

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9:38 am - Tue, May 28, 2013
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4:09 pm - Tue, Mar 26, 2013
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The Battle Over Legalized Marijuana Is Done

Here’s why:

(h/t: Radley Balko)

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3:12 pm - Sun, Mar 10, 2013

Advocates of treating marijuana more like alcohol gained another ally recently: the United Nations.

The U.N. would claim otherwise. In fact, the U.N.’s International Narcotics Control Board would hotly deny it. The agency’s latest report laments the legalization of pot in Colorado and Washington, declaring the approval of recreational marijuana use “in contravention to” the 1961 U.N. Convention on Narcotics.

Raymond Yans, the head of the INCB, has gone further — arguing that ballot measures legalizing recreational, and even medical, marijuana “undermine the humanitarian aims of the drug control system and are a threat to public health and well-being.” Echoing America’s domestic drug warriors, Yans called medical marijuana “a backdoor to legalization for recreational use.”

Here in the U.S., United Nations disapproval can only help the cause of legalization where it needs help the most: on the right. According to a December poll by Gallup, Democrats favor legalization 61-38. Independents are about evenly split. But Republicans favor continued prohibition, by a 2-1 margin.

They might favor it less if they knew the U.N. were, implicitly, telling states what to do. Just look at the conservative reaction to Agenda 21 — a voluntary U.N. program that encourages bike paths and urban planning. Conservatives see it as nothing less than the first step on the road to serfdom.

Take Scott Lingamfelter, who is running for the GOP nomination for lieutenant governor in Virginia. This year he sponsored a resolution denouncing Agenda 21 as a “radical” plan for “social engineering” that was being “covertly introduced” across the nation. In a January memo to constituents, he wrote that Agenda 21 is a conspiracy to “consolidate liberal power over the rest of us” and then “tear down private property ownership, single-family homes and other basic tenets of American life.”

The national GOP shares such sentiments. Its 2012 platform declared, “We strongly reject Agenda 21 as erosive of American sovereignty.” It also devoted an entire segment to federalism. Republicans do not like ostensibly higher authorities mucking about in local matters, and that includes federal authorities. So it may be worth notice that the Gallup poll also showed a lopsided majority of Americans — 64 percent — think Washington should not step in to enforce federal marijuana laws in states where pot has been legalized.

That may be one reason the Obama administration continues to hem and haw about its plans for Colorado and Washington. During a Senate appearance last week, Attorney General Eric Holder said — again — the administration was “still considering” its options. This hasn’t pleased the nation’s drug-war hawks, who want the Obama administration to file suit, pronto, to pre-empt the legalization measures.

Federal law trumps state law, and federal law defines marijuana as a Schedule I controlled substance — in the same category as heroin. This probably seems jarring to the 42 percent of Americans who have used marijuana at least once. Marijuana is not good for you, but it is not on the same plane as smack.

The consequences of marijuana prohibition, however, have grown high indeed. Marijuana accounts for nearly half of all drug prosecutions. Even if you assume half of those cases are plea-bargained down from trafficking, the country is still spending tremendous resources to punish people for having an occasional toke.

If Holder does move against Colorado and Washington, it will be interesting to see the response from another attorney general — Virginia’s Ken Cuccinelli. On Thursday, the tea party hero and champion of states’ rights will give the opening speech at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference. This year CPAC organizers shut out Republican Govs. Bob McDonnell and Chris Christie, who evidently committed the sin of ideological deviationism. But the organizers apparently did not mind Cuccinelli telling a class at the University of Virginia he has no objection to state-level experiments with legalization — or that his own views on the issue are evolving.

In his new book “The Last Line of Defense,” Cuccinelli contends the states provide protection from federal tyranny. This is an argument many conservatives find as appealing as they find the U.N. objectionable. And if they extend that line of thinking just a bit, they may come around on pot.

The syllogism is easy enough to follow: The U.N. should not tell Washington what it can do, and Washington should not tell the states what they can do — so why then should the states tell individuals what they can smoke? What sovereignty is more important than the individual kind?

With liberals such as New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg dictating how much soda you can buy, tea party enthusiasts already are primed to declare not just “Don’t tread on me” but also, “Keep your laws off my body.” After all, as Lingamfelter put it in his January memo about Agenda 21: The great threat from the U.N. is that it wants to “tak(e) away individual freedoms from people like you and me.” And that would be, pardon the term, a real drag.

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10:21 am - Mon, Mar 4, 2013
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12:39 pm - Wed, Feb 20, 2013
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Julian Sanchez:

In the early 1900s, the German public was fascinated by a mathematical Mr. Ed named Clever Hans, an Orlov Trotter horse that seemed to be capable of counting, doing basic arithmetic, and even solving elementary word problems—which, lacking the dexterity to grasp a number two pencil, it would answer by stamping its hooves. Eventually, of course, it was proven that Hans was doing nothing of the sort: the horse was perceptive rather than clever, and had been picking up on subtle, subconscious cues from his handler that let him know when to begin stamping and when (having arrived at the correct answer) he should stop.

A century later, academic researchers have shown that even well-trained drug-sniffing dogs are subject to the “Clever Hans Effect,” often alerting to non-existent drugs or explosives in locations where their human handlers have been falsely told they were present. Nor are those findings strictly academic. A recent analysis by reporters at the Chicago Tribune found that field records showed that drug-sniffing dogs produced a disturbingly high level of false positives: in only 44 percent of cases where dogs alerted did a subsequent search turn up contraband. Their success rate was even lower when it came to certain minorities: when dogs alerted on a Hispanic driver, only 27 percent of ensuing searches found any drugs, suggesting that the pooches may be picking up on their handlers’ subconscious bias, effectively legitimizing a form of racial profiling.

All this should make the Supreme Court’s unanimous decision today in Florida v. Harris disappointing to anyone who cares about the Fourth Amendment right to be free of unreasonable searches and seizures. Overturning a ruling by the Florida Supreme Court, the decision holds that a well-trained drug dog’s alert during a traffic stop generally provides probable cause for a warrantless search of the vehicle—even though, as in this case, the dog repeatedly alerted at a car that turned out not to contain any of the chemicals it had been trained to detect. Urging the need for a “flexible” standard, the Court saw no need for police to maintain or provide any record of a dog’s reliability in the field—such as a count of false positives—and even suggested that apparent “false positives” might not be errors at all, since a dog might be picking up “residual odors” from drugs that had previously been in contact with the vehicle. Even if that’s true, however, it’s not clear why it cuts in the government’s direction here: if the dogs are that sensitive, it seems like an additional reason to doubt that an alert provides probable cause to believe contraband is currently present… .

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10:38 am - Fri, Feb 1, 2013
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How a Dog’s Nose Became a ‘Search Warrant on a Leash’

image

A must-read piece for anyone interested in civil liberties:

A 2011 Chicago Tribune analysis of data from suburban police departments found that vehicle searches justified by a dog’s alert failed to turn up drugs or drug paraphernalia 56 percent of the time. In 1979 six police dogs at two public schools in Highland, Indiana, alerted to 50 students, only 17 of whom possessed contraband (marijuana, drug paraphernalia, and cans of beer), meaning the false positive rate was 66 percent. Looking at the performance of an Illinois state police K-9 team during an 11-month period in 2007 and 2008, Huffington Post reporter Radley Balko found that the dog sniffed 252 vehicles and alerted 136 times, but 74 percent of the searches triggered by those alerts did not find measurable amounts of illegal drugs. Similarly, a 2006 study by the New South Wales Ombudsman in Australia, an independent agency analogous to the U.S. Government Accountability Office, looked at more than 10,000 searches of people triggered by dog alerts and discovered that 74 percent of them found no illegal drugs. More-recent data from New South Wales indicate an even higher error rate: 80 percent in 2011. …

What is going on when dogs alert and no drugs are found? Police and prosecutors usually claim these are not really false alarms because the dog must have detected otherwise imperceptible drug traces left on clothing, cars, or personal possessions.…

Russ Jones, who worked as a K-9 officer and narcotics detective in San Jose, California, for 10 years and is now a member of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, notes that the drug-residue excuse is a double-edged sword for police, because it undermines the case for using dog alerts to justify searches. “You’re telling me that my car can be searched because the guy who changed the tires at the tire shop smokes marijuana, and his hands tightened up the lug nuts and put the hub cap back on?” Jones says. “Suppose the UPS guy uses amphetamine or cocaine, and he drops off a book that I ordered from Amazon.com. If a dog smells it, that gives you the right to search my home?”

Read the whole thing. The Supreme Court will be ruling on this issue soon.

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1:19 pm - Wed, Jan 23, 2013
142 notes
So what is the lesson here? Smoke marijuana illegally, and you can become president. Try to provide a safe, consistent product that keeps the trade out of domestic and foreign drug cartels and brings in tax revenue, and face 15 years jail time.
Novelist Marie Myung-Ok Lee, in her L.A. Times opinion piece, Overkill in the war on pot. (via latimes)

(via latimes)

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10:37 am - Fri, Jan 11, 2013
3 notes

Under federal law, property used to “facilitate” a drug crime is subject to forfeiture. In 2000, Congress added a safeguard aimed at preventing exactly the sort of injustice Caswell faces: An owner can stop a forfeiture if he shows, by “a preponderance of the evidence,” that he did not know about the illegal activity or that, once he discovered it, he “did all that reasonably could be expected under the circumstances to terminate such use of the property.”

Caswell, whose father built the motel in 1955, has not been accused of any wrongdoing, and the local Motel 6, Fairfield Inn, Wal-Mart and Home Depot have had similar problems with drug activity. But the government argues that Caswell was “willfully blind” to drug dealing and could have done more to prevent it.

Caswell, who has been running the motel since 1983, says he has no way of knowing what his customers are doing behind closed doors. He has always cooperated with the police, calling them to report suspicious activity and offering them free rooms for surveillance and sting operations.

In 2009, he got his reward: a forfeiture notice. Police had never suggested additional steps he could take to discourage crime or warned him that the motel — which supports him, his mother, his wife, their son, their daughter-in-law and their granddaughter — could be at risk.

This cruel surprise was engineered by Vincent Kelley, a forfeiture specialist at the Drug Enforcement Administration, who said he read about the Motel Caswell in a news report and found that the property, which the Caswells own free and clear, had an assessed value of $1.3 million. So Kelley approached the Tewksbury Police Department with an “equitable sharing” deal: The feds would seize the property and sell it, and the cops would get up to 80 percent of the proceeds.…

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6:03 pm - Sun, Nov 11, 2012
15 notes

Three decades ago, one incarcerated person out of 10 was a nonviolent drug offender. The ratio is now up to one in four. Marijuana offenders make up only a slice of that slice, yet Harvard economist Jeffrey Miron still estimates that legalizing the wacky weed would save nearly $9 billion a year. Legalizing all drugs would save $41 billion.

But at least that money is well-spent, right? Er, um. … Since 2005, federal spending on the war on drugs has risen 25 percent in nominal terms. Also since 2005, the rate of illegal drug use has risen 10 percent. Marijuana use “is the highest it has been in eight years,” the Obama administration noted last year.

Little wonder, then, that U.S. drug czar Gil Kerlikowske admitted two years ago the drug war he spearheads “has not been successful.” Or that last year the Global Commission on Drug Policy — whose commissioners include former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker and former Secretary of State George Schultz — agreed the war on drugs “has failed.” Or that this July, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie also said “the war on drugs, while well-intentioned, has been a failure.”

Despite all this, the nation’s drug warriors plow ahead, driven by the fear that doing otherwise would be inviting a world where addicts would clog the gutters and third-graders could buy smack at the corner quick-mart. They ought to look at Portugal.

Portugal decriminalized drugs — even the hardest ones — 11 years ago. Offenders are now cited for administrative rather than criminal transgressions. A 2009 Cato Institute paper by Slate’s Glen Greenwald examined what has happened in Portugal since. And?

The worst fears of drug-war hawks never materialized. Drug use has remained steady or, “in many categories, has actually decreased.” HIV infection rates and drug-related mortality rates have dropped. The bogeyman of drug tourism — in which “planeloads of students” fly to Portugal to toke up or shoot up — never showed up. In short, “none of the parade of horrors” predicted by opponents came to pass, while “many of the benefits” predicted by advocates did.

This likely is because “decriminalization was never seen as a concession to the inevitability of drug abuse. To the contrary, it was, and is, seen as the most effective government policy for reducing addiction and its accompanying harms.” Persons caught with drugs in Portugal are brought before “dissuasion commissions” whose “overriding goal” is to “avoid the stigma that arises from criminal proceedings. … At all times, respect for the alleged offender is emphasized.” Those found to have a substance problem are sent to treatment rather than prison….

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